I wonder as he wanders

My grandson, Jackson, is now four years old and is into his “why” years.  To his credit he generally accepts your answer to his why question fairly gracefully.  He may follow the first why with several additional whys but he is usually satisfied within three or four.  Jackson is observant and is constantly checking out everything as to how it works.  I have stepped into my role as Opa and have taken him on excursions to discover new things.  Along the way, Jackson has become very fond of Home Depot.  Before I wander further, I must compliment Home Depot on the clever marketing trick that they have developed to lure in unsuspecting grandpas with their grandchildren.  Every other Saturday or so they offer a free “build it” class for kids.  They cordon off an area in the lumber aisle and the kids get a complimentary craft kit and are able to assemble and paint their project.  Now how can they afford all those free precut kits and paint you ask?  Let’s put it this way, I have yet to leave the store on one of these “free” days without $100 to $200 worth of goods.  I guess they saw me coming because those end caps as they are called, are just beckoning with all those shiny tools I never knew I needed but certainly couldn’t live without.

Into this very inviting space comes Jackson.  A typical trip to Home Depot will last upwards of two hours.  Now this makes his parents and Mimi quite happy as it allows them two uninterrupted hours to catch their breath, though that generally ends up being spent chasing our one year old granddaughter, Adela, around the house as she now has their undivided attention.  Meanwhile Jackson is wandering.  We must open, walk through, and close every entry door in the home exterior section.  This of course means that we must also explore, until satisfied, how each storm window opens, closes and locks.  Chalk up most of hour number one.

Hour number two finds us in the appliance and kitchen area.  It is at this point that I begin my wondering.  Jackson is most fascinated with refrigerators.  And what man, young or old, wouldn’t be?  Dish washers, clothes dryers, washers, merely utilitarian, but refrigerators, or fridges as we men call them, are works of art.  They used to just keep things cold, period.  Not anymore.  They are divided into zones of coldness because no one wants meat at the same temperature as their lettuce and that would be no where near the perfect temperature for milk and wine.  Yes I said wine.  But that is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.  They have see through doors that light up at the Sheldon like three raps (reference Big Bang Theory).   And that door has a compartment within the door!  Believe me when I tell you Jackson marvels at that feature.  He tells me immediately that the “door in a door” invention is just for him and his supply of juice boxes, you know, the ones that squirt all over when you try to insert the straw.  Those boxes, but that’s another story for some other time.  I digress.

Had enough?  But wait, there’s more.  The really “cool” fridges have computers built in.  They will track your every move and then make your grocery list for you.  No more secret snacking after midnight guys.  That list is then sent to your cell phone.  Throw in a linked Alexa or Siri, and you have the beginnings of an appliance conspiracy.  I suspect they might even have their own Facebook page where they report on and laugh about their owners.  There’s probably a camera hidden in that door within the door.  Don’t believe me?  Search “my refrigerator” on your Facebook page and see if it agrees to accept your friend request.

After a thorough examination of every one of these refrigerators, Jackson tells me he is adding the one with the most impressive engineering to “his list”.  Now I am wondering just how serious is this list?  We move on to the stoves.  Not much time needed here, I suspect he likes eating the food more than preparing it.  I will let his Aunt Kat and Eli work on the development of that talent.  Within minutes, Jackson has decided on the grill top gas grill.  He is particularly fascinated with the push in and turn nobs.  We decide on the shiniest model and add it to his now growing list.  French style entry doors, crank out storm windows, a $5400 refrigerator with all the bells and whistles and a four burner grill top gas stove now adorn “the list”.

On to the cabinets.  And again guys, amazing innovations for you manly organizers out there.  In no time flat we are on a quest to verify which cabinets and cupboards are fitted with self-closing drawers.  Apparently it has come to the attention of kitchen designers that we are running out of our kitchens without remembering, or taking the time I guess, to shut the drawers and close the doors.  Jackson tells me that “his cabinets” MUST have these self-closers or they are not making “the list”.  We have almost isolated the winner when we discover two not to be without features.  Wait for it…….the ultimate in convenience and organization, the toe kick hidden flat pan drawer and the pull out, wire framed organizer, drop-down upper cabinet.  The entire innards float effortlessly down to the counter top where Jackson declares “there’s where my fruit snack packs go.”  And these, of course, have now been added to the list.

In the course of our two hour adventure, Jackson’s description, I have staved off several persistent floor sales reps, visited almost every section and aisle and if his parents fulfill his list, will have spent somewhere in the vicinity of $40,000 on Jackson’s house.  Way to go Home Depot.  We head for the front to escape and then head to McDonald’s to discuss the details of our finds and of course, to get our happy meal and toy.

And so I wonder?  Will Jackson become a designer?  Or maybe an engineer?  One of the store reps, after watching him carefully study the icemakers, suggested he consider being a plumber as they make so much more than engineers, her belief not necessarily mine and apologies to both careers.  Maybe he will write for a consumer magazine.  No matter what Jackson decides, I am amazed at watching the inquisitive mind of a four year old boy at work and humbled at his ability to figure out the technology and mechanics by simple observations.  I am sure that if we just encourage the curiosity of our children and grandchildren, the future is bright for a never ending evolution of new and creative conveniences.

And now it’s time to visit an electronics store.  Oh God.  Thank you Jackson for letting me wonder as you wandered.

New and Improved…….

In the world of merchandising, “new and improved” is the popular catch phrase.  We are a society that is always looking for the next best thing and new and improved just screams at us to get rid of the one we already own and buy its new and improved version.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the electronics we own.  Why else would the masses stand in a line that stretches around the block to buy the next cell phone release.  I am always amazed and then humbled when I run into someone still using a flip phone.  I am amazed that they haven’t fallen in step with the new and improved line but I am humbled when it is clearly demonstrated that their flip phone works just fine.  If anything, I am envious that while they are less connected to the world, they are still functioning and more importantly, with a lot less stress.  Admit it, you are probably reading this right now on your cell phone and feeling the burning need to check your emails and text messages, check the market on the internet and even get a little face time on Facebook.  You are connected.  But the guy with the flip phone, maybe not as connected electronically, still has that cool “Star Trek” look and hell, Captain Kirk was hip.

The message here is that we are always looking for the “best” in everything.  We originally used our cars to get from point A to point B.  Nowadays, they can do that on their own.  I am willing to bet that if you look at the interior of your car, you could comfortably live in there.  We electronicaly lock and unlock our car, run all the accessories from that 400 positions heated driver’s seat, start the car without a key and even do that from the comfort of our office.  We can let it park itself and while it is effortlessly doing that, place a call, hands free with our best friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I know this because I have one of those.  And I like it when that sultry voice says “recalculating”.

So if we want the best in the things we own, my question is what about us?  I mean am I the best version of myself?  Consider how great life would be if every once in a while we were new and improved.  Is that even possible and how would we know?  Who would be the judge of that?  Who records our progress?

Lets first consider the parameters.  We can try to improve throughout our life and in fact we generally do as long as we are even remotely paying attention to the cues around us.  The problem is we are human.  As such we will have good days, even great days, but unfortunately we will also have days that just never come together for us.  So lets be realistic, there will be days where we just aren’t the best version of ourselves.  We are a flip phone when we were striving for the smart phone with the incredibly bright screen and beautiful memory taking camera.  But here in lies the secret.  If we have the capacity to continue to improve then there never really will be a point in time when we are THEE BEST version of ourselves.  After knee surgery, the physical therapists would begin each session by asking me to rate my pain and then to let him or her know if during the week the pain had ever hit the top of the scale at ten.  My response was how would I know?  What if I claimed it had and then suddenly I experienced something that went beyond?  Worse yet, way beyond.  Being the best version of ourself is for that day and that point in time.  If we decided we were, then the task would be to never waiver but the tendency might be “well that’s it, I’ve done it and now I can quit working at it.”  I told each of my physical therapists that I was reserving the ten rating for my tombstone which would proudly proclaim “That was the ten.  And then I died.”

The beauty of the argument is that each day begins anew and offers us the chance to be the best version for that day.  If we would approach each new day with that resolve, what great things could we accomplish?  Being the best version of ourselves starts as a commitment to having a positive can do and want to do attitude.  Armed with that attitude we then focus on what we do with our energy and talents.  Maybe we just finish something we have been putting off.  Maybe we help someone else resolve a problem by helping with the solution.  Perhaps we just are there for someone when they needed a someone to be there.  It turns out that we are the judge of our character but the universe is the echo of just how good we were.  If we listen for and hear that echo, then at that moment, at that time, by our actions, we were the best version of ourselves.  Once we experience even one day of feeling that sense of achievement, we need to repeat the process and practice will bring progress.  Who knows, over time we may even be “new and improved.”

I think I need to wrap this up for now.  It’s getting late and I still need to get in line for that new Samsung 9.  I heard it really is new and improved and who wouldn’t want that.  Go be the best version of yourself for the rest of the day and then try to stretch it into the rest of the week.  But remember this, never stop listening for the echo.

How could I be missing this?

I really can’t believe that I am about to write this.  Its not that I am unhappy with the freedom of retirement.  I went to Florida for a week on a whim.  I spent a week skiing in the Rockies, something I could only dream about for the past twenty years.  I get up each day and set my own schedule.  I have even learned to skip the guilt when that schedule includes just kicking back with a good book.  And yet, I am about to tell you I am missing something.

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I’ve thought about it for a while now and at first I wasn’t sure what it was that was missing but the other day, having a very leisurely two hour breakfast with my wife, it became clear.  Deb asked if I was actually missing doing tax returns, something that kept me locked in battle from mid-January to mid-April every year for the past thirty-five plus years.  I was quick to answer, and apologies to any former client reading this, no way.  How would I be missing the stress, especially in a year when the tax law changes are creating countless more hours spent in planning?  How could I be missing the hours stacked on hours of time spent at the office?  The simple answer, I didn’t miss that.  But I was missing something and that turns out to be something I can’t replace.

Tax season, as it has always been known, is more or less a war.  It starts well before the first W-2’s or 1099’s hit the mailboxes.  It begins slowly as the office and staff gear up for battle.  Even before the first client enters through the doors, there will be hours of training on the law changes, software updates and procedures that will be put in place to handle over seven thousand tax returns to be compiled, reviewed, signed, filed and mailed all before April 15th.  It will speed up in mid January and by February 1st will consume everyone in the office, demanding conservatively eighty hours a week just to keep up.  So where am I going?  What masochist would miss that?  Well…..me.

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Don’t get me wrong, its not the hours, its not the work, its the workers.  I said it was a war.  In a war, you lean on the soldiers around you.  You depend on them.  They become your family.  Tax season was no different.  We were all in it together.  We knew when the stress or the hours were getting to one of us.  We stepped in.  We encouraged.  We told war stories and we laughed.  We were comrades and only someone who dealt wth it could understand the connections we formed.  If knowledge made you proficient at solving tax problems, empathy saved you.  That’s what I was missing.  I was on R&R while my comrades were going to battle together.  I missed the companionship, the hugs, the general encouragement from people going through the same process.

So here is the reality, at some point you step back from the battle and it moves on without you.  I will, for as long as they will include me, go back for the occassional lunch or the social hour, but I know it won’t and can’t be the same.  Their battle stories will now be their stories and not mine.  Conditions will change, and people will change.  Life will evolve.  Eventually, just as Thomas Hardy wrote, I won’t be able to go back home, the home that work, during a tax season, always became.  That family of co-workers I battled along side will have moved on, fighting new battles, their battles.

Every person who retires will go through, to some degree, this feeling of loss.  I am missing it now and though difficult, I must find a way to come to grips with it.  I will need to find things and people to fill my days and eventually, I will leave the battle behind.  I will leave the battle to those younger and still energetic enough to fight it.  If any of them are reading this now, here’s my advice.  Hang together, appreciate each other and realize that one day you will miss it as much as I do.  But for now, as tough as the hours may be, as stressful as the work may seem, you have comrades in arms who are sharing it all.  That’s what I miss and always will.

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